Editor's Note: This story on the impact of text messaging on college recruiting appeared in the Daily News on Aug. 8.
SITTING ON the bleachers at ABCD Camp in Teaneck, N.J., amid a sea of college basketball coaches, Jay Wright looked to his left and then his right.
Everywhere he looked, he saw the same thing.
"Everyone is reaching for their BlackBerrys," the Villanova coach said with a laugh.
Where once the ring, the beep or the catchy ringtone of the cell phone used to keep time with the bounce of the basketballs, nowadays the gyms are almost eerily quiet.
No one is chatting. Everyone is texting.
(Well, OK, not everyone. Asked if 79-year-old Joe Paterno text-messages his recruits, Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said nothing but laughed uproariously).
Ever since they learned that text messaging allowed them to skirt the rules that limit contact with recruits, college football and basketball coaches have been learning the lingo and getting blisters on their opposable thumbs.
Unlike letters, texting provides an instantaneous response, but unlike phone calls, the NCAA does not limit the number of texts a coach can make. In 1 day, a coach can text a player about how he did on an exam, how practice went, what he thinks of the NFL game on Sunday and any other innocuous question that might come to mind.
Jeff Jones, a senior-to-be at Monsignor Bonner, said he turned on his cell phone after a recent summer-league basketball game and found 16 messages waiting for him.
"I get 15 to 20 a day," says Jones, who is considering a host of top-tier schools after backing out of a verbal commitment to Maryland. "Most of them are just checking in, asking me how I'm doing or what I'm doing."
For the most part, coaches keep their messages short and sweet, though Kyle Griffin, a senior-to-be at Germantown Academy, says he'll get messages with so many questions that "it would take you 10 minutes to come up with an answer."
But then there are those who refuse to draw the line.
Jones said in a single day an Atlantic Coast Conference school sent him 14 messages.
Not surprisingly, the NCAA - realizing that give some coaches an inch and they'll text for miles - is considering reining in this latest craze. Last month the NCAA's Academic/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet recommended legislation to limit texting to between 4 and 8 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekends, an attempt to prevent coaches from interrupting students when they're in class, a common problem. It would not set a cap on the number of messages sent during those times.
"It's no different than any other profession," Temple basketball coach Fran Dunphy says. "Five percent of the people are going to abuse this and use it to circumvent the rules. That's the way it is. You have to be a principled person as much as you can and hope that others do the same."
Principle and college sports, though, are rarely uttered in the same sentence and coaches not only use texts to inundate recruits, they can use them to bypass the rules. NCAA rules limit how often a coach can call a recruit, but there are no limits as to how often a recruit can call a coach. Consequently a quick "CALL ME" text doesn't technically violate the rule, since the athlete is initiating the phone call.
Even the NCAA doesn't appear to recognize the black hole-sized loophole text messaging allows. In May, the NCAA put new Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson on probation after learning that while at Oklahoma, he and his staff placed 577 impermissible calls. The NCAA banned Sampson from making phone calls to recruits and from home visits until 2007.
The organization - which in August 2004 defined text messaging, like e-mails and letters, as general correspondence and therefore subject to far fewer restrictions - did nothing about texting.
"I heard some schools send out mass texts," Wright says. "And other people just text over and over again, just hounding these kids and clogging up their phones. That's ridiculous."
Realizing that student-athletes were being inundated with unwanted phone solicitations, the NCAA long ago took action to limit that. Now coaches can call high-school seniors only twice a week and juniors once a month. Sophomores and freshmen are untouchable.
But with no limits on texts once a player reaches the start of his junior year, there's quite frankly no escaping the recruiting process, a whirlwind that most kids learn quickly isn't nearly as fun as it appears.
"With text messaging, there's no break from recruiting," says Penn State's Bradley, who said he finds texting tedious and time-consuming, but grudgingly does it so as not to lose an edge in the recruiting wars. "Some kids like recruiting and some don't. In the beginning, they think it's great, and after a while, they have other things they want to do than talk to me all the time. I remember one kid, one of the best kids I recruited here, said, 'Why are you calling me? You're not my girlfriend. I'll see you at practice.' Now these kids can't escape us."
The other unrealized problem is that text messaging often puts a financial burden on the recruits. Some phone plans charge for text messages sent and received, which means star recruits could find themselves facing monthly bills in the hundreds of dollars, most of it unsolicited coaching spam.
"My dad is on me every month about the cost," says Dom Joseph, a defensive back at Roman Catholic who is headed to Virginia next year and has to pay extra for text messaging. "He pays it, though."
There's no denying that texting is far easier than the snail mail coaches used to have to rely on. Al Golden, the new Temple football coach, says he used to write 15 to 20 letters each day, a laborious process that offered little return. He never knew if kids received the mail, read it, tossed it or cared about it.
He says he still writes some letters, but with text messages he knows immediately if a player has received his missive and more, if he's interested in it and in Temple.
"The reality is, you're not going to get every kid," says Golden, who made it a point when he was hired to ask his administration for BlackBerrys for him and his staff. "So if a kid isn't writing you back, maybe it's time to move on."
If nothing else, text messaging is convenient. Dunphy says he frequently uses it to touch base with recruits, just to see if they're participating in certain tournaments. If they are, he'll travel to see them; if not, he won't make a needless trip.
And Wright, who texts his Villanova players all the time, says it's a great way to communicate with kids who have committed but aren't yet enrolled in his program.
"From our perspective, we have so many kids who commit early, but we still have to abide by the phone limit, so text messaging works great," he says. "We know they're coming. He knows he's coming and we want to communicate with each other. This way we can."
Soon, however, that likely will change. The NCAA in September will look more closely at establishing firm text-messaging guidelines. In its June report, the cabinet wrote, "Given the additional intrusion factor this technology adds to the lives of prospects, appropriate limitations should be established in order to balance the intrusive nature of such communication with the value of computer-mediated communication in the recruitment process."
A vote on a rule change could come as soon as January, though just how quickly it will be instituted is still unclear. Calls to the NCAA the past few weeks went unreturned.
And whether the changes actually will have any impact, well, that remains a more difficult question to answer.
"I don't know how you're going to regulate it," says Griffin, the GA hoopster who is considering Bucknell, Siena, William & Mary and Delaware. "Coaches are always going to find a way to make contact with guys they're recruiting."
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